The Viewer Is a Voyeur in Paul Davies’ Beautiful but Uninhabited Scenes of Domesticity

Viewing Paul Davies’ work is like paging through a quiet graphic novel or a colorful architectural catalog of modern dream homes. These strangely beautiful landscapes are filled with striking buildings but eerily devoid of people. His works evoke a sense of intrigue: Where is everybody?

Peering into these domestic scenes, you can’t help but feel like a voyeur. And that’s exactly what the Sydney-based artist intends. Davies says his paintings are uninhabited by people so as “to create a tension between the subject and its audience…so that the viewers are invited to wander through themselves.” And wander we do, thinking our own thoughts, moving back and forth between the past and the future, lingering in memories of home and family, perhaps imagining how our lives might be different in more attractive settings.

After all, who wouldn’t want to live surrounded by nature in a Frank Lloyd Wright–style house, complete with a swimming pool and a tree-shaded terrace?

These idyllic settings are real places, photographed by Davies. The first step in his detailed process is locating and documenting his ideal subjects—in this case, late modernist and Bauhaus-style buildings, or, to borrow Wright’s phrase, “organic architecture.”

Davies prints his photographs, then hand-cuts stencils of the images. In saturated acrylics, he transfers the stencil forms onto canvas, over which he paints free-hand. Some images he even transforms into free-standing bronze sculptures. The Hockney-esque results, a selection of which is on view at Heather James Fine Art, call to mind vivid California poolscapes.

In the end, though, Davies’ work is deeply personal, even as he engages with a range of larger themes, from modern design to the natural environment to the meaning of a lifestyle. His renderings of abandoned architecture are concerned more with the individual viewer and the power of nostalgia than with broader social commentary. Yet this melding of analog and digital is just the start of what the artist sees as a larger cultural dialog. “Architecture,” Davies has said, “is a metaphor for an idea spreading.”


—Bridget Gleeson


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